Ignorance of History

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I was reading a smear job the other day about the League of the South — which, by the by, is not racist, white supremacist or subversive. What amused me was that the person doing the smearing said that some members of the League believe in secession, as if that were akin to child molestation and murder.

Alas, never have so many known so little about the origins of their own country.

During the first 40 years of the republic, the majority consensus was that, of course, any state could secede. After all, the states were sovereign entities, and they had formed the union, not the other way round. For a time, some of the New England states even considered secession. In those early years of the republic, no one spoke about "the" United States. The phrase in use was "these United States."

Unfortunately for the Southern politicians, by the time they got around to finally seceding, the national consensus had changed, and most Americans were much more nationalistic. What the War Between the States proved was that the North was stronger militarily than the South, and that therefore secession was impractical. It did not mean that secession violated the Constitution or that it was philosophically defective. Abraham Lincoln’s mystical notion of an indivisible union was just that — a mystical notion that had no foundation in history or the Constitution. Mystical notions, like Manifest Destiny and the union, can certainly move people to action.

The proposition that if two or more states decide to form a confederation they can never afterward undo it is simply irrational. The union was formed voluntarily, and some of the states spelled out in their ratification motions that they reserved the right to withdraw the powers they were delegating to the new confederation. During the debate about ratification of the Constitution, George Washington most often described it as merely a "stronger confederation."

At any rate, it’s a moot point, except that nobody should be as ignorant of American history as to think that "secession" is a dirty word. Most Americans today can hardly name the capital of their state and would no more entertain a notion of secession than they would of banning baseball.

As for the League of the South, advocacy of secession back in the 1990s was originally done simply as a publicity stunt to attract media attention. And it did, especially in Great Britain. But nobody I know in the League has ever for one minute thought that secession was practical, short of some future catastrophic change in the thinking of the American people.

My own thinking is that if secession ever rears its head again, it will be in California, where the northern part of the state might one day wish to secede from the southern part, which some folks now call "Mexifornia."

But the real problem we face is not division but homogenization. Thanks to national chains, it’s getting increasingly harder to tell where you are in the United States by what you can see and what you can get to eat. The nation is being McDonald’s-ized or Wal-Marted. In the bad old days when I was a political hired gun, I had a stretch of travel that carried me from airports in New Hampshire to New York to Atlanta to New Orleans, and I swear it was like an existential hell. Everything looked and smelled the same.

I don’t advocate secession, but can we not at least preserve our regional cuisines? I know American history is politically incorrect, but surely a little variety in the diet is not.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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